I woke up this morning before the darkness of night had faded. All were silent, except for the wind. It howled while it made its way through gaps between my room windows, quietening as the light of dawn transformed silhouettes into objects.
A gentle rain began to fall—a passing shower really. It washed all it touched, a morning ablution that seemed more ceremonial than seasonal (it’s monsoon in India right now). It cleaned the dust on the pinnate fronds of the Coconut Palm in the garden, leaving the feather-shaped leaflets to glisten in the morning light of the tropical sun that shined as the clouds dispersed.
This sequence of events is not part of a story. It does not lead to a connected event. The following event was rather incongruent: I walked away from the window, and stood head bent, staring at my phone screen.
This is really how our days are, aren’t they? A sequence of events that are stitched together by our mind. Some events energise us, some enervate us, we forget some and some we hold on to, weaving together our personal stories. We pick and choose the most self-aggrandising events to build our social reputation. We use the sensational ones to create news, and we keep ourselves entertained by repeating the ones that involve others. That’s how we roll—making stories out of events. But, your life, my life, and the lives of all those we read and speak about are not stories. Is the heartbreak you experienced at losing a loved one a story, or can you feel its numbing pain somewhere deep inside? Is the joy you felt at a random act of kindness a story, or does it soothe your weary mind when it replays itself in memory?
Life then is not the narrative in our head. It is being lived through our experiences. Your experiences can caution me, guide me, inspire me, and mine can do likewise for you. This seems like the only worthy exchange between two individuals. Where then is the conflict? We learn from each other and we support each other. Or, we could if we tried, especially given our interdependence on this mutual exchange.
Maybe my experience of the transition from darkness to dawn to sunrise will inspire you to see the lyrical beauty of an ordinary morning, and then we will move on, grateful that we could share an experience. Nothing beyond. Because there’s really little else that can be shared.
“There are those who do not realise that one day we must all die, but those who do realise this settle their quarrels.”
What kind of kind? Click on the cover image below to access the free e-book.
The story is a combination of facts and fiction. It explores the virtue of kindness and it teaches us a little about the behaviour of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles, and about the behaviour of us humans.
The main protagonist of this story is Shanti Sofia, the daughter of Yajaira Vargas, a park ranger at Paso Pacifico, an organisation that works with local communities to help protect and restore biodiversity where people already live.
Yajaira Vargas works on Paso Pacifico’s initiatives at Playa El Ostional, at the La Flor Wildlife Refuge in Nicaragua and Shanti Sofia is engaged in their junior ranger programme. Like her mother, she is inspired to help protect endangered sea turtles. She spoke some insightful words, which I have used in the story—‘Turtle eggs are supposed to hatch in the sand, and not in the mouth.’
I thank Shanti Sofia, Yajaira Vargas, all the other rangers, and Paso Pacifico, for their commitment and for inspiring me with their work and their words. Their experiences and their approach to resolve the problem of human predators, with empathy and understanding gave me the background that I needed to write about a virtue as delicate as kindness.
So often misinterpreted and misrepresented, kindness is not just about friendliness and generosity. Kindness requires the development of a kind heart—a heart that cares.
One million species are on the road to extinction. Can we stop this from happening? Perhaps, if we begin to care.
It is for us to choose what kind of kind we would like to be.
I wrote and published my first book Kyo and Obi in 2018. It’s a fable about friendship and discovering the joy of self-acceptance.
I wish to share the story, and the beautiful line drawings and artwork with everyone. At a time, when we all need a little more joy, the story may (at least for some of us) inspire the search for the source. At a time, when we are reminded of our shared humanity, it may restore in our minds the importance of patience and acceptance.
Below is the link to the book, and the description of the story. Someday, when the situation permits, you may want to order a copy, and feel the texture of the recycled cotton paper, made from waste cotton; you may want to reflect on the thought that not a single tree needed to be cut to make the paper, and that the water and electricity used to produce the paper did not deplete the earth, because the water was harvested rainwater, and the electricity was solar-generated.
The story and the book were reminders, for me, of what it means to nurture loving care. Every word and every decision was a lesson in learning to consider collective well-being. This book is a gift I gave myself, and now I pass on that gift to you.
Click on the book title (highlighted text below) or the image to access the book.
An unusual friendship develops between a dog and a dot (a speck of dust)–man’s best friend and an ignored particle of matter. Despite being together all the time, they cannot be similar. Their dissimilarities are rather evident. Can their friendship sustain even with dissimilarities? Maybe, if there is patience, understanding and acceptance. Can acceptance be learnt? The dot tells us that it can. Let’s peep within, with the dot and look at where acceptance begins.
Nearly four weeks back, shades of green, yellow, purple, and red started to disappear from our refrigerator, to reveal the cold glass of empty shelves that reminded us of translucent ice sheets. We began to long for colour, like those living through a monochromatic winter long for the onset of spring. Frantically, we called local vendors to organise fruits and vegetables.
Our resolve to be content with what we had, changed quickly into doggedness to make sure we get what we need. We needed fresh produce that would be delivered to our doorstep every week. In a city, where humans reside like penguins in a rookery (colony), stepping into a marketplace was not desirable or sensible.
Penguin colonies show that strength in numbers is a reflection of unity. Where then does our strength lie?
A question asked, begins with an assumption that there is a definitive answer—one that is absolute. In our search for the absolute answer, we traded solitude for socialisation, only to learn that we must separate ourselves from each other. We made economic activity our purpose, only to discover that our pace of life is killing us. We allowed for inequalities to feel more powerful and secure, only to realise that we are as strong as our weakest link in the chain of co-dependence that we call life.
We tried to make urban habitats our penguin colonies, without the unity, but with the numbers. Now urbanisation is staring at us—the vacuous stare of a child with mangled hair and face covered with snot, squatting alongside the railway track with no bushes to hide the nakedness.
Our doggedness and our fast disappearing produce made us stare back, looking into unregulated food markets, at faces of marginalised workers that have become familiar. At faces of people, who have the right to vote but not the right to be heard: A unique combination, where your life counts but it does not matter. This social and political reality affects their life but not their attitude—their resolve proved stronger than ours: the resolve to disallow discontent from creeping in. It is different from being content with what you have. Both are of consequence in the game of roulette that we call fortune.
Living in homes, where there’s room to turn from the left to the right for a change in sight—the face of one roommate to the face of another—did not deter them from welcoming new roommates. A practical solution to unaffordable city rents at a time when income is scarce, and a human gesture that acknowledged their common predicament.
The scarcity of joy in their situation did not stop them from sharing the joy of small things: four clarified butter, flour, and sugar laddus (Indian spherical confectionary) shared amongst ten people. And the unpredictability of their daily routine did not stop them from being dependable. We tried to help them during a market crackdown by the police, and they reciprocated by delivering our orders despite a long day of uncertainty at the police station.
Maybe life doesn’t require us to be strong; it requires us to be generous. The question then is can generosity be learned? There is an answer—absolute or not, we shall only know when we find it.
I dream. I dream of soft ocean swells rocking me into this daydream I dream of sleepily laying under the banyan tree, outside my home, listening to the swishing sound of thousands of little leaves I dream of silvery light on a full-moon night, and its reflection in the river, as I gaze in wonder I dream of cradling tiny little flowers of the coconut palm, astonished that this delicate flower becomes a green, hard coconut I dream of quiet days on the beach, listening to the sound of the sea, as it drowns the noise in the head These dreams of freedom, I dream.
Freedom is lighter than hope. Hope can lead to despair. Freedom is more buoyant than desire. Desire can weigh us down. Dreams of freedom are a privilege that we can no longer take for granted Therefore, I dream these dreams. I dream to celebrate freedom. I dream to remember my privilege. I dream to be reminded of what life needs Life needs freedom. Behind the confines of our concrete walls, where windows offer a false sense of freedom, I dream. Like the migrant worker who dreams of being with his family Like the garbage collector who dreams of food security Like the delivery agent who dreams of a restful night Like the marginal farmer who dreams of a bountiful harvest Like the hungry labourer who dreams of a warm meal. I dream of this most precious gift of life, the gift of freedom I watch it in the palm leaves that sway gently I hear it in the sea that sings sonorously I smell it in the earth that exhales aromatically I taste it in the fruit that nourishes sweetly I feel it in the air that touches softly I know it in the heart that beats joyfully Freedom our inheritance, our path, our destination Let’s return to it.
I used to live in an old village near the river, in a beautiful coastal state in India. The state of Goa; the state of plenty: Plenty of greenery, plenty of sunshine, and plenty of sea and sand. This plenty morphed, in a little over three years, into plenty of construction, plenty of concrete, and plenty of plastic waste—still a state of plenty, but of a different kind. The kind that builds walls between us, and that blocks us from seeing the fine strings that connect us.
In Goa, we have torrential rains that make mankind halt, and that slowdown economic activity. It is when what we take for granted becomes a rarity, such as electricity, phone and wireless networks, and food supplies. And what we ignore comes alive: leaves are refreshed and they glisten in shades of green, and tiny creatures no longer burrow and hide in the soil.
Solitude takes precedence over social contact, and stillness over busyness. Nature wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s her cycle and we are part of it—we follow.
We no longer get all that our hungry mind craves, all we have is that which feeds our stomach: A thought unimaginable for a city dweller. We no longer pretend that we can keep pace, and we do not feel ashamed to slow down. Again, unimaginable for a city dweller. Yet, here we are today, teaching our hungry minds to rest and our bodies to slow down.
It’s not easy, especially when there’s no access to electricity and the Internet, but there’s little we can do. Therefore, we do little, we pause and watch the rains, we write, we sketch, we cook, we read, we feed stray animals—and we feel our insignificance. It is when the centre of our narratives moves from us to nature.
Insecurity surfaces, whether it is of food or of loss of control over well-formed habits and over our habitat. The insecurity is real. There’s no escape. Just like there is no escape for the homeless, or for those ravaged by war and disease in Syria and Sierra Leone. It is real.
However, it is only temporary—it is seasonal. We know it will pass and there’s plenty of beauty around, reassuring us that not all is desolate. Nature may be ferocious but it is cyclical, unlike mankind’s limitless atrocities that we inflict on ourselves and on other beings.
The Covid-19 virus made its way into our lives, when we killed its natural host. The virus too sought survival, the way we are seeking it now. Who is the enemy? We multiplied and crossed from 1 billion to 7 billion (in a span of 200 years), the virus too is multiplying. Who is the enemy? The instincts are common; the only difference is that human consciousness allows us to make choices. (Viruses may be considered to lead a “borrowed life”, on the spectrum between what is certainly living and what is not: read in Scientific American) How will we choose to move forward from here, from this experience?
Will we turn on our taps a little more gently, so that we wash under a trickle of water, rather than under a waterfall? Will we harvest rainwater? Will we consume food sensibly and waste less, so that even the hungry get their meals? Will we care about lives of all sentient beings, so that we do not breed and eat for taste and preference, but we hunt them for hunger only? Will we acknowledge our vulnerability? Will we travel only if needed, and not travel to build our own personal narratives (needed travel is that which doctors make to save lives or scientists and environmentalists make to save endangered beings, including trees)? Will we buy and source local, and stop looking at the world as a marketplace? Will we choose trees, the soil, and the planet, over buildings, roads, and convenience? The list is endless and the choices are ours. You and I make them.
He rang the doorbell; the smooth lines on his face were like ripples in sand—delicate patterns created by the passage of time. These patterns drew the face of knowledge. I bowed to him in traditional greeting, reserved for the elders in our community. As a child, I had often asked myself about why we bow to elders. What makes a person worthy of a bow? I much prefer egalitarian methods of greeting. I rebelled against this tradition through my youth. Till, I realised that rebellion is a reaction to the status quo. It counters social-inertia, but it cannot create sustained change.
While, I have acceded to bow the bow of reverence and conform to this tradition (no reason to fight it, given its non-violent history), in my mind the bow is to wisdom, or to slivers of it, roosting in each of us. And sure enough, shortly after the elder sat to tea, the sliver of wisdom awoke from repose. The face of knowledge transformed into the face of generosity, gently announcing the arrival of wisdom. Sanskrit words as refreshing and buoyant as morning dew touched my ears: Hitam Sahitam Iti Sahityam.
That which is accompanied by wellbeing is literature.
Literature is not just the written word, first recorded during the Sumerian civilisation, in 3400 BC. Neither is it artistic merit in prose and poetry that enlightens, entertains, or instructs. Literature gives words to experiences and insights that embrace wellbeing, as naturally as the wind embraces space, or tree roots embrace soil.
Marcel Proust (writer, early 20th century) said that, The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have experienced in himself.
Literature may help us discern what we have experienced, but to say that a writer’s work can enable us to discern what we would perhaps never have experienced in ourselves is limiting our understanding of experience to that which can be expressed.
Experiences reside on a different plane; the plane where we sense, not where we express, even if it’s in the vastness of our own minds. Experience precedes expression, and literature through its embrace of wellbeing can lead us to seek beneficial experiences.
She was dressed in embroidered clothes and long earrings. Her eyes and her lips were coloured. She didn’t look like herself any longer. She was painted and attired to represent an idea of beauty and glamour. She had been nominated for a prestigious award. She was young, a woman, and her origins could be traced to an underdeveloped nation. She was a minority, and she was crossing the chasm—the chasm in history. They celebrated her. She went along.
On the big award night, she sat in anticipation. Expectations had been built. Even as a child, she had lived up to expectations. She kept everyone happy. Disappointing others was not something she could bring herself to do. Guilt made her give endlessly.
There was excitement in the air. Every nominee, held in the clutch of hope (the deceptive face of desire) could feel the churn of doubt and anticipation. The award was a mark of distinction. Many aspired to it, while others dreamed. Few were known who did not care for an award, especially this one: A gold-plated statuette of a knight with a crusader’s sword, standing atop a film reel. Really, a male, a knight, and a crusader’s sword as recognition of creative excellence?
They announced the winner. It wasn’t her. Nor was it three of the other nominees. Only one among the five received the award, while all were deserving. The jury had picked a fit. The mark of distinction was assigned.
Doubt and anticipation ended. That’s it; it all changed in a minute. No one noticed the change. Words of encouragement touched the ears. Solidarity found expression. And what about the doubt and anticipation that had made its churn felt? Did it leave without an imprint?
She could exhale again and continue to dance, even without the glass shoes. She didn’t need glass shoes to dance. She needed her bare feet.
I was lifted out of a box that smelled of sawdust, and was placed on a shelf. I sat awkwardly, self-conscious of my difference. A book next to me asked, ‘why are you shy?’ I wasn’t sure of what to say, but it looked friendly, and so I said, “I don’t fit in. I look and feel different from the others.” ‘Different, isn’t a bad thing, look at me I am thinner than the others, and look at that book there, it’s smaller than everyone else, and that one has no cover. We are all a little different.‘
I wasn’t reassured. I sat quietly. It smiled and said, ‘let me tell you about how you were made.’ “How would you know?” I asked. ‘I heard the lady who put you on the shelf tell your story. You have been made from recycled cotton paper. Cotton waste was collected from apparel factories, and was shredded and mixed with tapioca.’ I interrupted, “Waste, I was made from trash! Different isn’t very special, is it? I do not want to be different.”
It smiled and continued. ‘Tapioca is a starch extracted from the cassava root, and starch is a polysaccharide that has many molecules of sugar or glucose. Plants produce it to store energy.’ “Oh, the cassava plant had to lose its store of energy so that I could be made?” Again it smiled (it smiled a lot).
‘The pulp of shredded cotton and tapioca was dried in the sun and pressed into paper on a large cylindrical press that runs on solar electricity. And then rows and rows of paper were hung on a clothesline to sunbathe. Your paper was born of the sun and the plants. You have no wood pulp and no chemicals and no tree was cut to produce you. Your ink too contains soybean oil and other vegetable oils. These oils do not trap heat in the atmosphere, and they do not add to global warming. ‘
I was embarrassed. Who was this me, who felt awkward? “So…, I said, you’re telling me that I am the cotton tree, the sun, the cassava root, and the soybean plant. I am a little of many?” ‘Yes,’ it replied. I smiled.